“Interactivity” seems like a bit of a buzzword nowadays, especially in the age of the web and mobile device. As a culture, we’re constantly hooked up to and interacting with some kind of interface–I’m typing on a keyboard interface at the moment in order to communicate my ideas about interfaces. Wrap your head around that one.
Now back to art. Seaman and Shaw’s artworks, such as The World Generator/The Engine Desire and The Legible City go beyond the mental level of interactivity in the way that they rely on physical input and communication from the viewer/user, through some sort of interface.
The main commonality between artworks like Seaman and Shaw’s is the presence of a user interface, which isn’t required for artworks that are interactive on a mental level. I think this contributes greatly to our modern understanding of what it means for a work of art to be interactive–the artwork provides us with some sort of interface, be it a mouse and keyboard or a bicycle “allowing users to control the speed and direction of navigation” (Paul 72) used by Jeffery Shaw in The Legible City.
What seems like an exception to this is virtual reality (in its original meaning, defined on p. 125), but I would argue that virtual reality still supplies an interface–it’s just that sometimes that interface is unseen, or close enough to how we interact with reality that it doesn’t seem like we are actively interacting with it.
Oh, and by the way, virtual reality is getting better as well as cheaper; Oculus VR is working on a device called the “Oculus Rift,” a virtual reality headset affordable to consumers. It’s focused on gaming right now, but even if you’re not a gamer it’s worth checking out.
There’s also a whole field of study devoted to interface design, which just goes to show how intertwined the interface is with our age of interactivity.
Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008. Print.